Enlisted association rewards members, secures benefits for all Published Jan. 8, 2012 By Maj. Gabe Johnson 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs TUCSON, Ariz. -- The holiday season may be over but the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of Arizona continues to bear gifts for its members - as well as all Arizona Guardsmen. Tech. Sgt. Pete Smith, from the 162nd Fighter Wing's maintenance plans, scheduling and documentation office, was surprised Jan. 6 when members of the EANGA executive council presented him with a new DVD player in his office at Tucson International Airport. As a reward for participation in the association, each month the executive council will randomly draw a name from its pool of chapter members to receive a prize. "This is a new initiative at every unit in the state to say 'thank you' to our current membership, and we hope it will draw attention to the association among non-members and perhaps encourage more people to join," said Staff Sgt. Christie Card, EANGA membership chair. "This is great!" said Smith. "I just got some movies for Christmas, so I'll be watching those on my new DVD player." The real gifts afforded by EANGA go well beyond home electronics and extend outside its roster of current chapter members. When Arizona Guardsmen take advantage of education benefits, early retirements, exemption from state income tax and relief fund programs they can send their thanks to EANGA. More than 552 Arizona chapter members work in coordination with the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS) to give the Guard a unified voice of 100,000 strong when lobbying lawmakers at state and national levels. The result is the realization of several exciting benefits for citizen Soldiers and Airmen. According to Master Sgt. Gary Jack, chapter president and member of the 162nd, a larger membership could translate to more benefits for Arizona Guardsmen. "The number of delegates we can send to the national conference increases our voice as a state," said Jack. "There may be issues in the future that we as Arizona Guardsmen want to push forward, and to have influence we'll need that voting strength. It will mean more to our elected state and federal leaders if our association goes to them with proposals that have the backing of a large number of Guardsmen." With current backing, EANGA and EANGUS have successfully promoted several initiatives. To date, the organizations have improved training, implemented new scholarships and tuition assistance. Also, Arizona Guardsmen who earn a Purple Heart can attend any state school for free... and so can their family members. They've even lowered the age at which Guardsmen can begin collecting active duty retirement pay. For every 90 days served on active duty for a state or federal mobilization they earn 90 days off of their retirement age. With enough mobilization time, Guardsmen can conceivably begin collecting their active duty annuity at age 55, instead of having to reach age 60. Through EANGA's advocacy efforts, Arizona now has a Soldier and Airman Relief Fund for Guardsmen who fall on financial difficulty. They can apply for assistance in the form of a grant or loan. The association's most recent achievement is their successful advocacy for the appointment of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to the Joint Chiefs of Staff - giving the Guard an equal voice among service components at the national level. "Essentially we are building a stronger Guard for the younger people coming up behind us who will one day take over, and to do it the right way we're going to need their membership," said Jack. "The association will never fully know what's important to the junior enlisted member unless those members join and use their voices. What was important to me as a junior enlisted member isn't the same as what's important to our young troops today. It's a whole new world." "The Enlisted Association is your association," said the chapter president. "What we do and how we do it is based on the input we get from our members. We're here so that when the time comes when members are called to duty, there's a framework there to support them and their families." For more information, or to join EANGA Airmen may contact Sergeant Jack or Sergeant Card, or they can visit www.eanga.org, or www.memberconnections.com/eangus.